Name: Brian Chase
Current Release: Drums and Drones: Decade on Chaikin Record
Recommendations: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell Deluxe Box Set
Drums and Drones - Drums and Drones: Decade
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, visit his expansive website for up to date news and sounds.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Giving and receiving - the two sides of a musician. I started playing quite young, maybe 5 or 6. The first music that hooked me was a box of my aunt’s 45’s from the ‘50s and 60s - early rocknroll and vocal groups. The same quality that drove her to collect this music as a teenager is the same that drives me now 60 years later.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Music is a collective dialogue, one that extends before one’s time, during it, and after it. My appreciation for music recognizes the great influence and contribution of others - my peers, my elders, and my predecessors - while simultaneously realizing that the conversation is never complete and allows room for every individual’s insights and perceptions.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The creative process starts with seeing the statue in the block of marble. How then to bring out this beautiful vision from the unformed mass? By continually respecting the art-product as a life of its own.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
There have been two primary sets of tools that have remained consistent since my teenage years: a drumset and a recording device. The craftsmanship of my drum equipment has improved to meet higher acoustic standards, and my old 4track has been traded for a computer. Recording equipment loves my snare drums almost as much as I do.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Give someone a set of colors with which to paint and those colors will be used. From there, the colors, if they are to be art, can take on meaning.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I have a project called Drums and Drones which is electroacoustic: the electro is there to enhance the acoustic. The project aims to deconstruct and bring to the foreground subtle aspects of a drum’s resonance. In the case of the electronics, computer software is used to help isolate and pick apart very specific frequencies. This software has its own design characteristics which is itself a type of terrain, albeit a large one, which I am to navigate.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
What you think you know is not always what others think. Challenging and encouraging one another to embrace what exists outside of preconceptions expresses the larger unlimited potential of this process. The key to effective collaboration seems to be good communication skills.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My young son usually wakes up before my wife and I do. Being with him is an endless inspirational resource of love and miracles. With that I take on the various aspects of my work life which includes mostly ‘admin’ and music practice. I’m starting a label - Chaikin Records - and the admin aspect has been fairly heavy in recent months. I helped design the website as part of my responsibilities.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
My solo project Drums and Drones is releasing a triple album and book on June 15th, 2018 (further description here). It represents ten years of the project in sound, image, and text. The book discusses the creative process from initial inspiration by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House installation, through my trial and error experiments with using computer software, to developing a very refined skill set at bringing forth acoustic subtleties of a drum.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
When you have a kid a lot of things change including one’s relationship to time and ideal conditions because those don’t exist in the same way. In many ways having a kid can enhance the creative process because every working moment is vital. And, I suppose that is what allows for creative potency and productivity - a sense of urgency and connection to inspiration, with or without limited or unlimited time.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Performing live and working in the studio place an emphasis on different aspects of the music. In concert, an emphasis is on the energy, and in the studio a further emphasis is on the details. As someone that works regularly in improvised music contexts as well as more formally structured ones, the roles of improvisation and composition vary depending on the music. It is important to find the compositional aspects of improvisation and the improvisational spontaneity of composition. Ultimately, it is the music which determines what serves it best.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
In emphasizing the quality of sonic timbre, what is activated in its appreciation is the function of listening. Attention is taken away from ‘narrative’ or ‘metaphor,’ and brought to elements of sonic detail and how they function as creative building blocks. Composition as a device concerns itself primarily with form and the development of structure. This is significant because structure itself informs the way content is communicated and received. Sounds themselves carry ‘tendencies’ and it is up to composition as a device to determine organization and direction.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
My solo project Drums and Drones is often performed in collaboration with NYC/Swiss video artist Ursula Scherrer. Her visuals are an amazing compliment to the music and function to express a similar mood. The sound and light together provide for a semi-immersive experience. With our collective art, we are interested in exploring ‘hearing' and ‘seeing’ as subjective processes - ones that are colored by preconceptions and can reveal a fluidity of meanings. Beyond these senses is the aspect of self that is untainted by awareness of perception or the physical elements.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I wish everyone made art. It is an important and necessary part of being human. Life has its ups and downs and for humans to stay healthy there needs to be some form of expression, preferably one that leads back to insight, wisdom, and joy.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Acoustic (and electric) musical instruments are important because they function by means of a direct connection between the physical body and the instrument. Sometimes, in the hands of the inexperienced, computer and electronics can disconnect the musician from the act of music making. I hope that in the future this quality of music as a creative and expressive action is once again underlined.